University officials respond to proposed cuts to Pell Grants, financial aid

Adam Hamze

In response to President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representative proposed an alternative plan earlier this month, which included cuts to financial aid programs in higher education, including freezing the maximum Pell Grant at its current level for the next decade.

The proposal, which would begin on October, aims to cut overall spending by $5.1 trillion over the next 10 years. In order to accomplish this goal, the plan will eliminate eligibility for less-than-half-time students, stop financing the Pell Grant with “mandatory money,” adding a maximum-income cap for students to receive aid, and end student-loan interest subsidies for undergraduates while they are enrolled.

“Mandatory money” refers to the set amount of money the government is required to set aside for the Pell Grant. An interest subsidy on education loans ensures that a student will not be charged interest as long as he is enrolled in a university.

Student Financial Services Director Tom Melecki said taking away mandatory money from the Pell Grant will cut approximately 14 percent of the total money in the grant.

“Right there you’re shrinking the federal Pell Grants by a significant amount for our students,” Melecki said. “Even if the University weren’t to raise tuition at all in the future, like it hasn’t in the last three years, it would still be a time when inflation is driving up the cost of renting.”

Melecki said he does not believe the Pell Grant is currently giving enough aid to students. According to Melecki, even when taking inflation into account, the maximum federal Pell Grant available in 2012-13 covered 64 percent of tuition and fees at the average public institution — a decrease from 103 percent in 1992-93.

“It’s declining here, and it’s declining across the country,” Melecki said. “What’s happened lately is that Congress, for several of the last 10 years, kept the Pell Grant amounts the same from one year to another, but because of inflation, by keeping them the same, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant fell further and further behind.”

Economics senior lecturer Wayne Hickenbottom said he views the proposal as logical because going to college increases future income, making it rational to have to take out loans in order to reach that goal.

“It certainly seems that there’s a little more shifting of the cost of education over time to the individual as opposed to some governmental entity,” Hickenbottom said. “It fundamentally comes down to that if you believe what education does is increases your earning power to allow you to make more money in the future, then you’re the one who ought to be paying for that.”

A College Board report says the median annual earning for an American with a bachelor’s degree is $56,000, which is $21,000 higher than the median income for those with only high school diplomas.

Government senior Mariam Almasri, who is currently on financial aid, said while she does believe the government gives a fair amount of money to students, it’s often overlooked that the price of college encompasses more than just tuition, especially when it comes to housing.

“I would say they do give enough, especially to those who do need it,” Almasri said. “By putting [your living situation] off campus as on campus, that might determine how much more money you can get. … I think they should give money for off-campus housing.”